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Does BT’s move signal an end for net neutrality?

Sad smiley key on computer keyboard

BT was today forced to deny that it was paving the way for the introduction of a two-tier internet. It has announced that it’s going to offer faster internet to video-based websites if they want to pay for the privilege.

BT’s new service, dubbed ‘Content Connect’, will let internet service providers (ISPs) using BT’s broadband pipes to offer faster internet to video-streaming websites (like BBC iPlayer). But only if they’re willing to pay for it.

Critics have claimed that letting ISPs charge websites for faster delivery will mean the end of the principle of ‘net neutrality’, whereby all internet content (as long as it’s legal) is treated equally regardless of its content, origin, or destination.

Net neutrality under attack

Patrick Steen has already raised concerns over the death of net neutrality, following culture minister Ed Vaizey’s apparent support of a two-speed internet, where sites would pay a premium to get in the ‘fast lane’.

Vaizey’s speech sparked outrage amongst supporters of the open net, and many of you were similarly angered. ‘Wow, a two tier system would be monumentally bad’, said Scruff7, ‘the internet would end up like every high street in the country, dominated by the same shops and businesses.’ Mellenoweth agreed, ‘Net neutrality is a must, anything else is a cable service.’

As for Which?, we were among 19 signatories of an open letter to Ofcom and Vaizey urging them to put in place rules to protect the open internet. And what has the minister and regulator done in response? Nothing.

BT’s worrying new venture

And now BT – network owner and the UK’s largest ISP – is proposing to let providers charge video sites for faster delivery. I smell a rat. And a weasel – a BT spokesperson said in relation to the announcement, ‘BT supports the concept of net neutrality but believes that service providers should also be free to strike commercial deals should content owners want a higher quality or assured service delivery.’ Who are they kidding?

This is the first move towards a two-tiered internet that would discriminate against websites that want to offer high-bandwidth content (like video streaming) but can’t afford to pay ISPs for it. Surely that’s what we, as internet users, already pay our providers for? It’s moves like this that will see an end to net neutrality and stifle innovation on the internet.

But what else will such a system mean for you and me? If content providers are forced to pay more to deliver their services to consumers, my bet is that they’ll attempt to recoup this cost through consumers. Websites could either directly charge us to view certain content (like videos) or strike up deals with ISPs to create premium internet packages that include certain types of content (just like cable TV packages).

I for one am not happy with the idea of BT influencing what I can see over the net. Would you be happy to only have access to websites that can afford to pay ISPs for the bandwidth? Or are you with us in protecting net neutrality?

Comments
Guest
James Harrison says:
4 January 2011

Do we have an automatic right to anything? Does BT have an automatic right to providing us with a line of communication? It certainly appears so as we all have to pay BT to get on the internet in the first place! Bring on the competition. It can only get better. I’ll certainly be the first person to get rid of a previously national company who now are still way behind the times but charging 21st century prices. Now they brag of their national upgrading work but don’t tell us that the government (we, the taxpayers) is paying for it!

Guest

The basic problem is that video consumes large amounts of bandwidth relative to most other internet usage.
Someone has to pay for the infrastructure to cope with this demand for “realtime” bandwidth if severe congestion is to be avoided.
Should all users pay higher chargers to their ISPs or only those users who want/need the bandwidth ?
Its a bit like do you build toll roads to ease motorway congestion or add extra lanes funded by everyone through taxes.

ps If you has access to cable you dont have to pay or use BT’s local infrastructure.

Guest
afwheatley says:
12 January 2011

Surely the problem here is that the consumer, who ultimately pays, is being denied an effective choice?

Firstly decisions about quality of service are being made remotely from the consumer with no practical way to understand which organisation is having what effect at any particular time.

Secondly there is no effective way consumers can influence competition by their choices as long as they are locked into one contract. It is like committing that every time you drive between London and Manchester to only use the Birmingham relief road irrespective of its benefit to a particular journey.

Guest

“This is the first move towards a two-tiered internet that would discriminate against websites that want to offer high-bandwidth content (like video streaming) but can’t afford to pay ISPs for it.”

So who do they think is going to pay for it???

If a company wants to ensure a good end-customer experience for their high-bandwidth service, then they should have the right to buy this service. If I’m paying for premium content such as a streamed film, then I expect it to work without stalling or stuttering due to my neighbours checking their Facebook or watching clips of cats on YouTube.

This is known as “the real world”, where we have the choice to pay more for a premium service if we wish. The way people are using the web is changing – bandwidth requirements are rocketing, as are the associated delivery costs. Delivering a streamed high def film costs significantly more than checking email – this needs to be paid for, and as end users we are going to have to get used to this.

Guest
pootle42 says:
23 January 2011

This approach seems to be gaining ground. PCPRO have a recent article – the-end-of-the-net-as-we-know-it – with views from talktalk.

I think that ISPs doing deals with content providers is a very bad idea. It removes options from ME as to what I can and can’t do. I agree that the infrastructure needs to be paid for, but the consumer ends up being stitched up without a voice – ISPs are going to make deals based on factors that are almost certainly not for MY benefit, but for theirs, and organisations who cannot do deals (perhaps the bbc whose charter might prevent it, and certainly smaller organisations / start ups etc) will get locked out in the wilderness. It’s another way for the media / content moguls to strangle new competition at birth.

Surely the right way here is for the consumer who wants to stream large amounts of video to pay both for the bandwidth and the quality of service to ensure it gets delivered? Most ISPs already cap bandwidth, charging more for higher capacity, and some of the more intelligent ones tie this to time of day as well. If I have paid extra (as I do) for extra capacity, I certainly don’t want my ISP choosing where I visit to use this capacity.

It’s not as if we don’t end up paying anyway if these megadeals start happening.

Certainly if my ISP goes ahead with anything like this, I’ll be switching